Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 4: Madrid

12.6: Munich -> Girona -> Barcelona
13.6: Barcelona
14.6: Barcelona
15.6: Barcelona -> Madrid
16.6: Madrid
17.6: Madrid
18.6: Madrid -> El Escorial -> Toledo -> Cordoba
19.6: Cordoba -> Sevilla
20.6: Sevilla -> Zahara de los Atunes
21.6: Zahara de los Atunes
22.6: Zahara -> Cadiz -> Zahara
23.6: Zahara -> Tarifa -> Zahara
24.6: Zahara -> Marbella -> Granada
25.6: Granada -> Malaga
26.6: Malaga -> Memmingen -> Munich

16.6: Madrid
Hotel Agumar, Madrid.
Weather: surprisingly fresh in the morning until 11-12. Was thinking it would already be quite hot at noon, but no, it only starts getting hot later. You don't feel so much the heat because the heat is mostly dry. Sunny, blue sky, with a thin clouds layer every now and then.

I was thinking of starting the day early, leaving the hotel at 8am, but I only wake up at 9:15am, the kids even later. I call the parcel service and arrange that they will send us the camera from Barcelona to the hotel in Madrid. Hopefully it will arrive.

We leave the hotel shortly before 11am. We slowly walk along Paseo del Prado towards Cibeles square, arriving in Cibeles square after 12pm noon. The whole Paseo del Prado is a large street with a strip of tree-lined green park in the middle. There are fountains and statues every now and then. Nice, 19th century neoclassical architecture. A number of important museums lie along the street, which we avoid because the kids most likely won't be interested of paintings by Goya or Dali. A good deal of the road is under the shadow, easy to walk even under the strong summer sun.

Some quite impressive buildings on Cibeles square. From here it's not far to the Opera and the Palacio Real. Unless I'm missing something all that matters from a tourist perspective of Madrid is concentrated here. So, in theory it could be possible to "do" Madrid in one day, if you start in the morning and leave out the museums.

Around 1pm Alissia starts complaining that she is tired and wants to eat. Some searching with the Nokia phone navigation system for a nearby restaurant where they offer noodles (for ínstance Asian or Italian). The phone shows a couple of places on the map, which then, once we are there, magically disappear. The phone also shows restaurants which do not exist. It seems that the map categories of the phone are quite outdated. In the end we run into Asian and Italian restaurants, which are side by side on Calle Barquillo. The Italian restaurant is selling a dish of spaghetti for 14 Euro and other noodles dishes around this price level. I wonder who pays this money for a dish of spaghetti. Are people in Madrid really so rich?

While looking for the restaurant we have found several places selling sandwiches, paninis and similar stuff. Perhaps local people eat mostly sandwiches for lunch and only go to a real restaurant on special events. But we can't feed the kids with sandwiches. So we settle for the Asian restaurant which is also expensive, but not as expensive as the other places.

At 2pm we head back to the hotel. It's actually an easy walk, easily doable with a stroller and small kids. Shortly before 3pm we arrive. The idea would be to let the kids rest for a while, then go out again in the early evening. The light will also be more suitable for photography in the late afternoon.

Around 6pm we leave again the hotel and go into town by bus. We are planning to visit the Moro park beneath the royal palace and take some photos of the royal palace. It turns out that we do everything the wrong way: we drop off at the wrong bus stop and have to walk for a while. I also lose time checking one entrance of the royal palace, which turns out to be the wrong one. In the end, at 7:30pm we are at the right entrance to the park, but this is already closed (although the park should actually be open until 8pm).

So we walk up to the royal palace. A bit tiring to push up the hill the stroller with Natasha in it with all this heat. Alissia, who is 7, also cannot walk too much. If you travel with small kids, having an own car is better, so the kids do not have walk so much and you don't have to push strollers with kids for km up and down hills in the heat.

It's 7:45pm when we arrive there, and you already are not allowed to walk into the outer court. Looks like I'll have to get again back here, to get some pictures of the palace. So we proceed to the Opera square where we have some food (Döner Kebab from the Turkish restaurant). The Döner doesn't taste too well (a bit too salty).

After that we continue to Plaza Mayor, which we missed yesterday. Plaza Mayor is reached by taking one of the side streets between Opera and Sol squares. It's basically one of the tourist hotspots of Madrid, perhaps even The Tourist Hotspot of Madrid. It's a big square surronded on all sides by buildings with beautiful façades. Restaurants are on all sides of the square. Lots of people, tourists, street artists. Natasha and Alissia are thrilled by a street artist performing as a small baby in a baby stroller. Actually not just Alissia - this guy is really cool and a big crowd gathers around him.

Next to Plaza Mayor is the Mercado de San Miguel food market, where you can buy delicious and high quality food. Surprise, surprise, one of the stalls is selling Jamon Iberico (Spanish ham) for 18.50 Euro for 100 grams. This reminds me of those melons on sale in Japan for 100 Euro per piece. Serrano ham (i.e. Spanish ham sells in Germany for less than 3 Euro for 100 grams, even the better Parma ham can be found for less than 3 Euro per 100 grams. But this Spanish ham sells for more than six times the price. Who pays this much for some ham?

We then continue walking to Puerta del Sol square and at 10:30pm we take the metro back to the hotel.

17.6: Madrid
Hotel Agumar, Madrid.
Weather: same weather pattern as yesterday. Sunny, blue sky, with a thin clouds layer every now and then. And of course no rain.

Today, because tomorrow we are supposed to leave early, the idea would be to stay out the whole day and be back in the hotel at 8pm, so that the kids can sleep early, so that tomorrow they can wake up early.

We only manage to leave the hotel after 11am, mainly because the kids wake up late because they went sleeping late yesterday. We then take the metro to Puerta del Sol square. Strong sun, lots of people, students camping there protesting against something. From there we proceed slowly to Plaza Mayor, for some daytime photo shots.

Compared with Barcelona, Madrid does not have nearly as many places to see and much less art. Madrid is much more austere and strict and less culturally interesting than Barcelona.

In one of the side street we spot a small restaurant offering a menu for 9.50 Euro which includes Paella and noodles - the perfect combination. We have lunch there. The food is actually not too bad. But the Paella is not as good as elsewhere as Shirley tells me, and my steak consists for more than 2/3 by pure fat. I guess you get what you pay for. The dessert however is quite good.

After lunch we slowly stroll towards the royal palace. On the way we spot a number of places in the old town we missed yesterday. Nothing too impressive, but overall nice architecture. Once at the royal palace the issue is that the ticket costs 10 Euro. Alissia most likely will pay as well, because she is older than 4, which means that the entry for the whole family is likely to be quite pricey. Frankly I don't understand why they can't charge less, since this palace is, well, not one of the seven wonders of the world.

So we avoid visiting the palace from the inside and only walk around it a bit. Then we walk down the hill to the entrance of the Moro park. This is a nice, well kept park, very refreshing in a hot summer day, with a nice view of the royal palace. We reach the park at 4pm and stay there until 5. While there we are "chased away" from our bench by an old Spanish couple who tells us they come every day to this park and sit every day on this bench and can't go to another bench.

After the park we take the bus to Plaza de Espana. There is the Edificio de Espana from which according to what is written on world66.com you can enjoy a panoramic view of Madrid from the bar on the 26th floor. It turns out that this bar does not exist anymore, in fact the whole building is closed and in a state of disarray. Perhaps they are going to demolish it.

I check with my smartphone for other places in Madrid with a panoramic view, but find nothing suitable and in any case it's almost too late now (6:15pm) to drag the family to a new place. So I mention that I saw a shopping mall the other day (a "centro comercial") near the north station building. We slowly walk there.

Along the way we stop in a food store for some drinks. Surprise, surprise, it is run by a Chinese couple, like the food store near our hotel. Shirley chit-chats for quite some time with the owners. I find myself using Chinese to communicate with them, because my Spanish is not that good anymore. I may have a very good passive understanding of Spanish, but after years of studying Chinese I'm now more fluent in Chinese than Spanish.

It's 7pm when we reach the mall adjacent to the north station ("estacion del norte"). It's a not that big mall, completely unimpressive if compared to the malls you find in Asia, but it's the first shopping mall we have found in Spain so far. Mostly clothes and lifestyle stuff.

Shirley has a long dinner there and we leave the mall after 9pm. We get back by metro, which is quite complicated from the adjacent Principe Pio station, because we have to change two times the line. This makes us lose a lot of time and in fact we are in Atocha Renfe station only shortly before 10pm. I joke that had we walked, we would have arrived earlier.

I send Shirley back to the nearby hotel, and return to Puerta del Sol square by metro. From there I slowly walk back to the hotel, shooting some photos here and there with the dark blue early night sky. "Photographer's gathering" at the Metropolis building - a surprisingly large number of people with tripods and DSLRs all pointing their cameras on this building.

I'm back in the hotel room shortly after 11pm and, surprise, the kids are still not sleeping.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon